Editor’s note: This column has been updated with a portion of a statement from Houston ISD about Waltrip High School and principal Michael Niggli. The statement was received after the publication of this column online and in print.
The two most-viewed stories on our website last week were about a stray dog named Bob and unrest at Waltrip High School, where a few students and parents spoke out against the administration on campus and at Houston ISD headquarters.
Despite your obvious interest in the stories, some of you didn’t like that they were written. The students’ claims were unfounded and shouldn’t have been reported, some of you said on Facebook, and others were disappointed in the story about Bob because I was asked not to write it by the Garden Oaks woman who has looked after him for the last few years and was worried such a story could bring harm to the black Labrador mix with no permanent home but plenty of local notoriety.
Linda Sparks might very well have been right, which is something I grappled with for the better part of a week. I’m the owner of a rescue dog, and the thought that a story I wrote could lead to the death of another beloved animal was more than a little unsettling.
Journalism is not for the faint of heart, though, and I knew Bob’s story needed to be told because of his well-established connection to the community, the potential safety concerns raised by neighborhood families and the longstanding issue of stray animals in the area. His story and photos of him had been shared countless times on Facebook during the last four years, so he already was more of a celebrity than a secret.
It is my sincere hope that Sparks’ suspicions prove unfounded, that instead of bringing out the worst in people and causing more turmoil, my story will bring out the best in people and prompt them to find an agreeable solution for themselves as well as the poor pooch.
Call me naïve or sappy or maybe even delusional, but the prospect of promoting positive change is the impetus for a lot of stories I write. Inspiring the public and bettering society should be a goal of every journalist, whose job is to do more than inform and entertain.
Another role of a community advocate such as The Leader is to facilitate important conversations and bring potential problems to light, because how else are those conversations going to get started and those problems going to get solved? This applies to the Waltrip story as well.
It’s not my job to promote a public school or sweep its problems under the entrance mat. My job is to report what happens at taxpayer-funded institutions charged with educating the community’s children, especially when said happenings are potentially adverse to said children.
When those children (young adults in this case) go out of their way to speak in a public forum such as a school board meeting, expressing concerns about their own education, it’s a newsworthy event 10 times out of 10.
Now, to be fair, relaying those concerns does not mean they are valid. So like any fair and balanced reporter would do, I solicited responses from principal Michael Niggli and the main office for HISD before writing the story.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a week after the story was published, HISD emailed a statement from Waltrip School Support Officer Jason Bernal. He pointed out a few campuswide improvements during Niggli’s first school year as principal and also acknowledged there are areas for improvement.
“(Niggli) is working on creating additional structures for students, parents and community members to voice their concerns,” Bernal said. “There were two productive community meetings last week and everyone is committed to ensure students’ needs are met.”
So what I said about facilitating important conversations rings especially true in this case. As of Wednesday, the Waltrip story had been shared nearly 30 times and prompted more than 50 comments on Facebook.
Maybe all those talks will result in a better understanding between students, teachers and administrators and a better learning environment for them all. If The Leader plays even a small role in that happening, well, that’s what we’re here for.
Because while everyone wants good news that makes them feel good about themselves and their community – a staple of The Leader since it first was thrown to neighborhood curbs in 1954 – an informed and enlightened citizenry also needs a dose of harsh reality every now and again.
We’ll continue bringing you both, and we’ll keep being forthcoming about our methods and motives, even when you don’t agree with them and even if it causes us personal angst.
Along those lines, if you see a skittish black dog with a bobbed-off tail, please don’t be a jerk and bring him any harm. Let him go on his way and live to walk another day, because there are good people like Sparks who care about him and are trying to make his bad situation better.